For the second straight day Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fought back against Michael Wolff's Trump tell-all. And in doing so, she may have finally killed off what's left of irony in the White House briefing room.
“The president,” Sanders told reporters, “believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact, when it certainly and clearly is not.”
Yes, we all know what a stickler Trump is for making sure what he says is accurate before he says it. It may be his defining trait.
In all seriousness, it's not just the nearly 2,000 false and misleading things Trump has said as president. It's that the White House and Trump himself have acknowledged that Sanders's standard doesn't really apply to them.
A little more than a month ago, after Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos pushed by a leader of a fringe political group in Britain, Sanders made almost precisely the opposite argument about the veracity of the videos; she said that didn't really matter. “Whether it's a real video, the threat is real,” Sanders said. “His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security.”
Trump disproved Sanders's Thursday comment shortly after being inaugurated. At a White House news conference, he was confronted with his repeated claim that he had registered “the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan” — one of many factually incorrect claims Trump has made about his 2016 win. Trump said in response, “I was given that information, I don’t know.” A fact too good to check, apparently!
During the 2016 campaign, Trump at one point alluded to a National Enquirer story suggesting that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) may have been involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination. His defense? Not that it was true or even plausible but that Cruz's campaign never denied it (even though it actually had). “I have no control over anything,” Trump said. “I might have pointed it out, but they never denied — did anybody ever deny that it was the father? They're not saying, 'Oh, that wasn't really my father.'" So here, the standard seems to be not whether something is accurate but whether someone has denied it.
Then there was the time Trump suggested that a protester who had rushed the stage at one of his rallies was affiliated with the Islamic State. When NBC's Chuck Todd pointed out that this was an Internet hoax, Trump didn't back down. “I don’t know what they made up,” he said in March 2016. “All I know is what’s on the Internet.”
But perhaps the most telling Trump comments about this kind of thing came in a March interview with Time magazine. While talking about his baseless claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, Trump was asked why he said such things without factual evidence.
“I’m a very instinctual person,” he said, “but my instinct turns out to be right.”
That's a far cry from “I believe in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact.” And whatever you think about Wolff's book — and there's plenty to be skeptical of — the White House long ago forfeited the moral high ground when it comes to pre-fact-checking.
(h/t Igor Bobic)